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Column: Pets and hot cars

Posted: May 21, 2018 3:09 p.m.
Updated: May 22, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Provided by Andrea Walker/

Staying cool in the shade, Cami is a 3-year-old Retriever/Corgi mix available for adoption from Fostering Foster Animal Rescue.

Bring on the heat! It may just be May, but summer is here and it is hot. Already, people in the South are running the A/C, jumping in pools, and heading to the lake. Anything to stay cool. A lot of our summer activities involve our pets. With the heat comes danger and while it may seem pretty clear, some people just don’t realize the dangers of the summer heat on our pets. We take extra steps to keep our pets cool, like making sure they have fresh, cool shelter and making sure they have access to shady areas and indoor shelter from the heat. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, thousands of pets die each year from heat exhaustion and many of those are from being left alone in a hot car.

Dr. Wendy King, of Spears Creek Veterinary Clinic in Elgin, reports that just leaving your pet in a hot car for a short period of time is extremely risky and can be fatal. The temperature in a car can rise by 20 degrees every 10 minutes. That means if it is 70 degrees outside, within 10 minutes, the inside of your car can reach 90 degrees. In Kershaw County, where summer temperatures often are in the 90s, it means that temps in your car can rise to 140 degrees in less than 20 minutes. These temperatures mean that even just running in the store to grab a gallon of milk can be deadly for your dog. A dog’s average body temperature is between 101 and 102.5. Dr. King reports that at a core body temperature as low as 106, the dog can experience multi-organ dysfunction including brain damage, kidney failure and heart failure. Dr. King says some of the signs of distress to look for are panting and drooling, frantic behavior such as pawing at the window, losing their bowels and their tongue turning purple. She is adamant that leaving your pet in an unattended, hot car is deadly. She recommends leaving your dog at home when you run your errands, even if you think you will just be a few minutes.

What do our laws say about this? Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews reports that over half the states in the U.S. have laws that either prohibit leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle under dangerous conditions or provide protection from being sued for a person who rescues a distressed animal from a vehicle. South Carolina is not one of those, but there is a law pertaining to the ill treatment of animals, which means that an owner can be charged if their pet was obviously or visibly suffering.

What should we do if we see an animal in distress? Sheriff Matthews says there is no single answer to this. If the animal appears to be OK and the vehicle is parked in front of a business, then try to find the owner. If the animal is in distress, call 911. Ask 911 operators how close a first responder is. Law enforcement is spread pretty thin with a heavy call volume, so they might not be able to answer the call in time to save the animal. Fire services are not as busy. They might be able to help. A man of action, Sheriff Matthews states “as a last resort, if it were me, I would break out the window and deal with the aftermath. Consider that a dog may be vicious. I would make sure that law enforcement responds if you break someone’s vehicle window because as you might expect, there would likely be an unpleasant aftermath.”

While I smile when I see the face of a happy dog riding in the car with their person, please ask yourself if your pet really needs to go with you. If the answer is no, leave them at home and when you get back spend an extra few minutes telling them about your day. They’ll be glad to listen.

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